Wound healed!

I tried really hard not to be cynical about Rudd’s apology to the ‘stolen generation’ last week. Raych and I were woken up from deep sleep, after 24 hours of travel and waiting around in airports, by the sound of a large crowd outside the window. We live opposite the Redfern Community Centre, and a giant screen had been set up to televise the proceedings.

I’m with Auswatch, and the Onion. It’s shithouse for the government to promise in one news segment that from now on everything will be different, and in the next that an axe is to be taken to public spending and taxes are to be cut. But the cheering and all the emotion in the crowd that morning made me wonder if there was something I was missing about Australian politics that made this a bigger deal than I thought.

Later, at a Redfern pub, the bartender told me that they weren’t selling jugs that day because the police had been in and asked them not to, because they were worried about trouble from celebrating Aborigines. All day and into the night patrols were stepped up. Nothing happened.

Published in: on 23 February, 2008 at 4:40 pm  Comments (2)  

Redfern oral history

This looks fantastic: a website devoted to oral history of my neighbourhood, Redfern. I’ve only just started browsing through it. Some great stuff about the squatting origins of the Block:

Roberta Sykes: Well I suppose The Block was all boarded up and lots of the houses there had been gutted and there weren’t facilities available. There were a lot of people around at the time who had nowhere to sleep and they would prise the boards off the windows and climb in and sleep there. [That was around] 1970, 1971, 1972.

Mum Shirl always had a concern for people who had nowhere to sleep and they would start sleeping in empty houses. She would run around to make sure they were all right. There are all sorts of background things that I am not sure about, like what triggered off the police oppression against the people who were sleeping in there, whether the developers suddenly got it in their minds. All those buildings belonged to somebody, somebody had been buying them, some big company, with the intention of developing them at some stage but years in the future. Meanwhile there was a shortage of shelter for people in the inner city so people were taking the advantage of going into the boarded buildings because they had nowhere else to go. Then the police started targeting that area to harass people and that’s when Mum Shirl and myself and others got involved. At the same time there were other targets of harassment like the Empress Hotel and places like that, where we understood the Riot Squad was being trained there by running in and rounding up blacks and things happening, and it seemed to us like the same thing was happening with people even less able to defend themselves.

They were just thrown into police paddy wagons, were they?

Roberta Sykes: Sometimes they were, sometimes they were beaten up. Then it almost turned into like a small urban war between the people and the police. Once we started to become involved, they started to get even heavier and they seemed to be, from my perspective, being trained to act without compassion. Since I would say the overwhelming majority of those young white male policeman had never known an Aboriginal, it wasn’t difficult for them to be made afraid of Aborigines, for them to believe all sorts of fantastic things about them, that they were crazy, their heads are as hard as bullets so you are going to have to bang them to get some sense into them, that sort of attitude.

Mick Mundine: Well I started in 1975 and my brother was working in 1974. I came here and I got a job and I started as a painter. Now at the time there were about six houses was getting renovated, as you know, the company [Aboriginal Housing Company] was registered in 1973 and the reason why the company was set up was a lot of Aboriginal people found it very hard to get [into] private real estate. It was very racist in them day. So a group of ‘goomies’ [heavy drinkers] squatted in these three houses. Now at the time, Father Ted Kennedy used to help a lot of people up at the Catholic church in Redfern in conjunction with Bob Bellear and his wife, Kaye. They were the ones who really got together, got a good mob of people from the community and got the company [Aboriginal Housing Company] registered and it carried on from there.

Published in: on 12 January, 2008 at 4:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Troops out now


I like it when protests start at the Block in Redfern because I can get from bed to the rally in less than 10 minutes. A 10am starting time can be forgiven.

It was a relatively small march for Sydney, 400 at most, but spirited. This was Sydney’s part of the national day of action against what amounts to martial law in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. In fact it was international, because protests were happening in New Zealand as well, and organiser Lyall Munro got a big cheer from the crowd when he mentioned Maori support.

There are vast differences between the situation of Maori in New Zealand and indigenous people here, who on average have things much worse. The last few weeks have demonstrated one major difference – the complete lack of independent indigenous political power at a federal level. Thanks to their weight in the New Zealand population and the Maori seats, Maori can’t be ignored – this has long been an electoral handicap for National and lately troublesome for Labour.

Here, despite the valiant efforts of indigenous activists, independent Aboriginal voices are almost inconsequential in national politics, except those voices cherrypicked as useful for the government. A constituency of white liberals has to be appeased, but even on the left proper, their concerns often take a paternalistic form. Many are surprisingly susceptible to the warping of self-determination rhetoric by the likes of Noel Pearson – New Zealanders will find phrases like ‘welfare dependency’ and ‘the failure of liberalism’ familiar from people like Donna Awatere-Huata and John Tamihere. The ALP leadership has been shameless in jumping on the bandwagon to avoid the wedge.


What happens now will depend on the extent of resistance in the invaded communities themselves, from the Northern Territory government, and among the professionals the government will rely on to carry out its plans. (As if to highlight that the police and military are not bringing extra welfare spending, Howard has called on doctors to volunteer to carry out the compulsory checks for sexual abuse.)

For the rest of us, the immediate goal is to keep trying to swing public opinion against the invasion. According to a Newspoll poll last week, 61 per cent of voters support the Howard plan.

Published in: on 14 July, 2007 at 4:16 pm  Comments (1)